The Hollywood Bowl opened its 2023 season with a hell of party Saturday evening (June 10), thanks to Janet Jackson and her Together Again Tour with special guest Ludacris. It’s Jackson’s first major outing since her 2019 Metamorphosis Las Vegas residency and, later that year, her 30th anniversary celebration of 1989’s Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.
Borrowing its name from the hit single featured on Jackson’s 1997 sixth album The Velvet Rope, Together Again fittingly embodied the reunion vibe coursing throughout the multi-generational and multi-racial audience inside the Bowl. Both Jackson and Ludacris kept the sold-out, constantly cheering, sing-along crowd on its feet from beginning to end of their Los Angeles stopover.
Before coming to the Bowl, Jackson and Ludacris performed the night before (June 9) in Irvine, Calif. Additional California stops on the Together Again Tour — which kicked off April 14 — include Chula Vista (San Diego, June 11), San Bernardino (June 14) and Mountain View (June 16) before heading to Portland, Oregon (June 20) and Seattle (June 21), and then wrapping Oct. 27 in Lincoln (Sacramento, Calif.).
Here are five memorable highlights from the Los Angeles show:
Grand Entrance: Jackson prefaced her one hour and 45-minute set with a video compilation of pivotal moments in her life and 50-year career, from growing up as the youngest sister of the famed Jackson 5 brothers to becoming a solo star in her own right. Then several beats after the video ended, followed by flashing colored lights, Jackson walked onto a circular platform in the center of the stage to extended thunderous applause and shout-outs, resplendent in a floor-length, purple-hooded cape tied with a bow at the neck, purple lipstick and a waist-long, top-knotted ponytail. Dropping the cape, she launched into “Love Me” and then “Damita Jo” wearing a gold sparkly jumpsuit and matching boots. As most fans know, the latter song is her middle name and the title of her 2004 album. It’s also one of several songs — including “Enjoy,” “Like You Don’t Love Me” and “Do It 2 Me” — that she’s been performing live for the first time. But no matter how much of the concert has already been covered in reviews thus far, nothing matches being there to experience first-hand the excitement that comes with the start of a Jackson concert.
Dancing Machine and Other Moves: Further heightening the experience this time is the show’s minimalist set — three video screens, circular platform and upper platform — with Jackson complemented by four energetic male dancers who kept pace with her the whole time. So attendees were given a bird’s eye view of Jackson’s percolating stage presence and still captivating choreography. Among the songs drawing ecstatic reaction during her 40-song set were “If,” “That’s the Way Love Goes,” “What Have You Done for Me Lately”/“Nasty,” “The Pleasure Principle,” “Control” (which had Ludacris dancing in the crowd), “All for You” and “Miss You Much.” A suite of slow songs (“Let’s Wait Awhile,” “Anytime, Anyplace,” “I Get Lonely”) lent an intimate vibe to the evening, as did Jackson performing “Again” with YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) led by conductor Thomas Wilkins.
“It feels so good to be home,” Jackson said before joining YOLA. “Tonight is very special to me because we’re all here to support the LA Phil.” Note: All proceeds from the Bowl’s opening night benefitted the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its learning and community programs.
Ending the show’s second act with “I Get Lonely,” Jackson serenaded one of the dancers and danced suggestively with him — before surprising the crowd by planting him with a full-on kiss and then sashaying offstage wearing a sly smile.
A Colorful Sendoff: Before encoring with “Together Again,” Jackson and crew gave the audience what it had been waiting for … a riveting reprise of one of her most popular and socially conscious hits, “Rhythm Nation.” Decked all in black — with Jackson donning a black T-shirt with RN spelled out across the front — the crew launched into a dance routine that was just as crisp and on-point as it was when Jackson introduced the track and its ground-breaking video back in 1989. A surprise fireworks display illuminating the sky above the Bowl put an exclamation point on the performance.
Shaken and Stirred: Flanked by several video screens frequently emblazoned with his fiery DTP (Disturbing tha Peace) label logo, Ludacris did just that. He didn’t simply warm up the crowd — he fired them up to boiling. With his unique, rapid-fire flow still intact, Luda commandingly strode the stage as he ripped his way through a 40-minute memory-evoking set. As one concertgoer was overheard noting, “You forget just how many records Ludacris has.” With his large Afro bouncing along, the rapper/actor/entrepreneur reeled off 18 songs as he took fans back to day one of his career. Among them: “Southern Fried Intro,” “Welcome to Atlanta,” “Area Codes,” “Lovers & Friends,” “My Chick Bad,” “Money Maker,” first hit single “What’s Your Fantasy,” “Stand Up” (wearing self-described “big ass white shoes”), his verses from Usher’s “Yeah!” and set closer “Get Back.” Honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in May this year, Ludacris definitively proved what he declared early into his set: “I was born to be on this damn stage tonight!”
Jamming with Mr. Jam: Spotted in the audience getting his groove on as well was Jimmy Jam. He and partner Terry Lewis are the Grammy-winning songwriters-producers who collaborated with Jackson in crafting a majority of her hits. Watching him, alongside his family, was a cool and unexpected treat.